Ever wondered if Martha Stewart struggles with some of the same health issues we mere mortals do? So did WebMD.
So when we talked to her for our March/April WebMD the Magazine's cover story, we quizzed her on some of the things we all go through -- finding time for yourself, recovering from injury, and coping with grief. (Martha's beloved mom, "Big Martha" Kostyra, passed away last November.)
We also talked to Stewart about the visionary new center for senior health at Mt. Sinai Medical Center in New York she recently opened, inspired by her mother -- and what she's learned about herself along the way.
1. Health Flaw: Sleep
Stewart confesses there's one thing she probably neglects: "Sleep. It's an exhausting lifestyle, and I always say sleep can go. It's not important to me right now," she says. "I never stay in bed late -- I can't! In my house, the first people arrive at about 6:30, and I have to be up well before that." Breakfast for her household menagerie alone -- three dogs, four cats, about 30 birds, 200 chickens, eight turkeys, five horses, and three donkeys -- could take hours.
Could she perhaps turn in a little earlier at night? Not with the pile of 35 books she bought while in Seattle over Thanksgiving waiting on her night table. And besides -- "I like watching David Letterman!"
2. Health Flaw: Stress
How does Stewart really relax? She admits she has yet to find the perfect way to wind down from her hectic lifestyle. "I wish I had one!" she laments. She's stressed by the way today's high-tech world has cut people off from one another, and laments the fact that her daily phone conversation with her daughter has now turned into a daily email. "Just simply talking to somebody makes things better. A three-word email doesn't do that," she says.
"Although ... when I get on my horse and go out into the woods, the thing I always say is, 'It doesn't get any better than this.' That's a good little motto. We all need to look for those moments when we can say that."
3. Health Feat: Personalizing Her Grief
Stewart's loss of her mom last December was fairly sudden; she'd been in good health up until a stroke in early November. An unexpected loss requires a specific approach to grieving, says Pamela Sollenberger, MS, a certified grief counselor who serves on the advisory board for the American Academy of Grief Counseling.
"When someone has been very ill for a long time, we're a lot further along in our grieving when that person dies," she says. "But if it's a relatively sudden loss, we have no time to prepare." And just because Stewart isn't wearing her grief on her crisply ironed sleeve doesn't mean she isn't struggling in private. "Your grief is unique only to you. Yours is different than mine, Martha Stewart's is different than ours," Sollenberger says.
One way of grappling with loss is to channel energies into something that honors that person and creates a legacy. For Stewart, this could mean deepening her involvement with her Mount Sinai Martha Stewart Center for Living, which opened last fall in New York thanks to a $5 million investment from Stewart, and which mattered so much to her mother.
Another healthy way to cope with loss is to engage in what Sollenberger calls "instrumental grieving," which could be anything from chopping wood to hoeing the garden to kickboxing. "Sometimes it's easier to exercise your grief than to talk about it," she says.
4. Health Feat: Diet and Exercise
No matter her schedule, Stewart makes sure to make time for her workout routine. "I do more exercise than I ever did before, but that's because I am living a very hectic life that requires exercise. I feel I need it," she says. She'd squeezed in an early-morning workout and then another hour of yoga with a trainer the day she spoke with WebMD. "That's a lucky day. Usually I get about an hour a day. But I have to insist on it."
Her fierceness about fitness likely contributed to her quick recovery from surgery back in June, when ongoing pain from torn cartilage of the hip spurred her to undergo hip replacement. Stewart was riding her horse the day before the procedure and back at work five days after.
"I get zillions of emails from all over the country asking what I did for Martha," says her surgeon, Steven Stuchin, MD, director of orthopaedic surgery at New York University Hospital for Joint Diseases. "In terms of technique, I did some cool stuff. But what's really important is ... Martha went into this in as good a shape as she could be."
As for nutrition, Stewart has long believed in eating fresh and homemade. "I don't eat a lot of artificial foods and never have; I don't open a lot of cans and bottles," she says. "I just refuse to imbibe or eat things that I think are dangerous."
5. Health Feat: Perfectionism
Yes, it's true: For Stewart, being perfect may be just what the doctor ordered. That is, perfectionism may be a healthy way for her to work through tough times.
Some mental health experts still cling to the notion that perfectionism is a form of neurosis, but many now understand it can have positive aspects, says University of Michigan psychologist Edward C. Chang, PhD. While "maladaptive" or negative perfectionists turn that stress inward and use it as an excuse to give up, "adaptive" or positive perfectionists such as Stewart "use that stress as kind of a motivating or energizing factor to move toward their goals," he says.
Other experts see a potential upside as well. Psychologists Joachim Stoeber, PhD, from the University of Kent in the United Kingdom and Kathleen Otto, PhD, from the University of Leipzig in Germany reviewed 35 studies of perfectionists and found a healthy benefit to perfectionism. Compared with less exacting people, perfectionists tend to be higher achievers, more satisfied with their lives, and better able to cope with setbacks.
Hmm, does that sound like anyone you've heard of?
Just like Stewart, we all have our health failings -- and feats. Her goal, with her new senior center and an in-the-works health-oriented makeover for much of her media empire (yes, even Martha Stewart Weddings), is to get us to focus more on the feats, and make the most of them. "We have to find the path to wellness, and that means making plans now for how to live healthily well into the future," Stewart tells WebMD.
For the full story on Martha Stewart's best and worst health habits and her visionary new center for senior health care, look in your doctor's office for WebMD the Magazine's cover story on her in the March/April 2008 issue. Or read the story online now.